Question Marks Make Australian Open Wide Open

by John on January 13, 2008

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The Australian Open begins tomorrow and to get a good read on who the men’s favorites really are might first require examination of the Injury Report. Unfortunately in tennis, unlike the National Football League, there isn’t an official one. It’s more hearsay, rumor and speculation. The year’s first Grand Slam is always a bit of a crap shoot anyway, beginning as it does immediately following tennis’ off-season. There are always questions of matchplay readiness and physical fitness, combined with the sometimes inferno that can be early Melbourne summer. This year is no different. Top seed and world No. 1 Roger Federer comes into his opening match less prepared than usual. The Swiss star had to withdraw from the Kooyong exhibition tournament last week, his traditional Aussie Open tuneup, due to a stomach virus. Federer was back on the practice court at week’s end working his way into form, but still hasn’t played a competitive match since early November in Shanghai. No. 3 Novak Djokovic, a potential threat to Federer winning his third straight Aussie title and fourth overall, tweaked his shoulder in the Hopman Cup, but appears to have recovered and is ready to answer the bell. David Nalbandian, a Federer nemesis who was playing the best tennis of anyone on the tour late last fall, strained his back while warming up with Marat Safin at Kooyong and had to withdraw from the event. It looks like Nalbandian, the No. 10 seed, will give it a go, but back spasms are always a cause for concern. Then there is No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who seems to be fine, except for the 6-0, 6-1 shellacking he suffered against Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the Chennai final a week ago. It’s true Raffy played a four-hour semifinal the day before against fellow Spaniard Carlos Moya, but maybe fitness is an issue since Nadal never gets gassed. The fact that there are so many question marks surrounding  the four pre-tournament favorites renders great potential for a surprise winner. Safin, when he’s fit and motivated, and apparently he is, is always a dangerous floater. The big Russian, unseeded, knocked out Federer in the 2005 final, one of his two Grand Slam titles. Other trouble makers who might have a shot are No. 6 Andy Roddick, No. 9 Andy Murray, fresh off a championship title at Doha, No. 8 Richard Gasquet, and who knows, maybe No. 14 Youzhny. I’m thinking Safin or Roddick, winner at Kooyong for the third straight year, pose the biggest threat to steal the title. Roddick, however, only if Federer loses before the final. The American is on Nadal’s side of the draw, and the Swiss Maestro absolutely owns Roddick. Safin can beat anybody. Tee it up mates and let’s see what happens.

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